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Tales from a nightmare commute

TicketsVehiclesJamaicaTravelTransportationRailway TransportationLong Island Rail Road

They walked. They cycled. They carpooled. And they waited.

They stood in two-hour lines to buy tickets for Long Island Rail Road trains. They waited on curbs for cabs, commuter vans or even strangers' cars. They negotiated vehicle checkpoints to cross into Manhattan and sat in gridlock uptown.

Michole Smith, 25, of Jamaica, took the LIRR to Farmingdale, where she had hoped to catch a Penn Station-bound train to reach her job at a midtown bank. Two hours later, she just went home. "What can we do? Eight o'clock I'm supposed to be at work. It's 10 o'clock now. ... Tomorrow I'm going to be riding with a girlfriend of mine."

With the city's strike contingency plan aimed at softening the crush of traffic, fewer commuters than usual attempted the journey to Manhattan Tuesday. In one hour at the peak of the morning rush, about 6,000 used East River crossings, compared with 13,500 in the same period on a normal workday.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he expects a tougher rush hour Wednesday, as more New Yorkers brave the traffic and return to work.

Some of those who trekked in were forced to rely on creative measures, from Rollerblading to hitchhiking. One disabled woman, who normally needs help from conductors to board the train and bus on her daily commute, rode her motorized wheelchair nearly 50 blocks.

"I'm just trying to go with the flow," said Saiph Rossworn, 26. "I'll just have to do it till it's over."

Traffic, moving well in some places, ground to a halt at the crossings into Manhattan and at 96th Street, where cops were checking to make sure each vehicle had at least four people between 5 and 11 a.m. On 110th Street and Broadway, hundreds of cars pouring off the Henry Hudson Parkway were stuck in a jam. Ann Ellsworth, a musician on her way to a different kind of jam, took matters into her own hands. While waiting for her band members to pick her up to carpool, she started directing traffic.

"I'm just trying to cooperate," said Ellsworth. She'd never directed traffic before, she said. "But I played Tetris."

It wasn't all bad. The Brooklyn Bridge, featuring Brooklyn Borough President and chief cheerleader Marty Markowitz at one end with a loudspeaker and the Red Cross with free hot chocolate at the other, had a crowded, carnival atmosphere. Preparing to hoof across the Queensboro Bridge, Anne Murray, 28, of Middle Village, got a ride in a stretch limo instead. "Hey dude! Free limo ride!" she called to another pedestrian, after hopping a fence to help the driver meet the four-passenger requirement.

Perhaps the worst indignities were faced by those trying to take the LIRR, where lines of angry would-be passengers at some stations snaked around a half-dozen city blocks.

Many Queens commuters complained the railroad had not fully informed riders that tickets needed to be purchased in advance. The railroad also limited access to the Jamaica platforms to control crowding.

"My toenails are about to fall off," said Mavis Livingston, of South Ozone Park, who had arrived in Jamaica at 6:30 a.m. and waited two hours in line as temperatures hovered in the 20s. "Had they given people an understanding, they could have bought tickets the night before; instead you have people trying to jump the line."

This story was reported by Christine Armario, Matt Friedman, Melanie Lefkowitz, William Murphy, Graham Rayman, Karla Schuster, and Joie Tyrrell, and was written by Lefkowitz.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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